‘Our industry ought to be the sustainability leader, and yet it’s not,’ says Brompton CEO

Will Butler-Adams calls on bike industry to reduce waste and rethink materials

A brompton bike in a warehouse
(Image credit: Brompton)

Brompton CEO Will Butler-Adams has urged companies in the cycling industry to look at and improve their sustainability credentials. 

The folding bike manufacturer has today announced that it has become a certified B Corp, meaning it performs at high social and environmental standards. 

Speaking to Cycling Weekly, Butler-Adams said measures need to be taken throughout the supply chain to ensure the industry is as green as it can be

“The delight of cycling and the sustainability of cycling has let the industry pretend it’s so amazing, and that we don’t need to bother about the more difficult stuff,” he said. 

“But if we’re truly serious about sorting out the world, and genuinely living in a sustainable way on planet Earth, we need to deal with the whole bang shoot.”

The CEO identified energy use and material sourcing as key areas for improvement.

Over the past five years, Brompton has moved to using 95% renewable energy, and has cut its waste in half. 

“Sustainability is mostly about waste,” Butler-Adams explained. “If you’re less wasteful, you’re more sustainable. And if you’re less wasteful, you’re more profitable. 

“In terms of where we’ve got to go, I think the biggest carbon footprint in a bicycle is the material. Aluminium is very high, titanium is very, very high, carbon is very, very, very high in terms of carbon footprint.”

The CEO added that Brompton is working in an industry group to determine how to best use and recycle materials, but this may take “five to ten years” to get right. 

“I think carbon has got a long way to go,” he said. “I’m not aware currently of technology that will reduce the carbon footprint of carbon fibre, but it will come and the industry needs to stimulate it.

“It’s difficult at the moment because our industry is hurting. When you’re hurting, things like sustainability, caring for the environment and caring for staff get pushed to the bottom of the pile, and self preservation suddenly rises up. 

“We’re doing our tiny little bit, and we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved, but we have got an enormously long way to go,” Butler-Adams continued. “Really, our industry ought to be the leader, and yet it’s sort of not.”

Hit by the slump

Person riding a folding Brompton bike

(Image credit: Brompton)

Despite its example in sustainability, Brompton has not been immune to the turbulence felt across the cycling industry over the past year. 

Bike sales fell to a historic low in 2023, following a boom during the Covid pandemic, with almost all manufacturers feeling the squeeze. 

“Absolutely we’ve been hit,” Butler-Adams told Cycling Weekly. “When you’ve got retailers who have run out of cash and can’t stock your product, that affects your sales.”

The CEO revealed that sales volume has fallen by around 10-15% in the UK, and the US market has also been “difficult”. 

“We thought we were going to grow. Instead, we’re going to end up pretty much flat,” he said.

Still, he added, “business is about being agile. It’s about responding to what’s happening on the horizon and being careful, caring for your suppliers and your staff. 

“We’re still investing quite heavily, but you’ve got to spend less, you’ve got to cut some projects you thought you were going to do or put them on hold. You can’t do everything.”

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